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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Plectrum tremolo technique - loose wrist

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

ronatr - Posted - 02/24/2020:  08:47:02

I've been taught the importance of keeping a loose wrist when doing tremolo. (Thanks Will)
Does that apply to all plectrum strumming, not just tremolo?

When practicing, even just doing a slow strum to the beat, should I be focusing on keeping my wrist loose? Are there any cases where you shouldn't have a loose wrist?

Don Lewers - Posted - 02/24/2020:  09:18:26

Ron, every chance I get, I talk about hangin' the left wrist loose, it's so very important, and I've discussed this point many times on my video clips. Here's an example, hope it helps .... good luck, Don.

trussrod - Posted - 02/24/2020:  10:29:59

I’ve always kept my pick close to where the action is because nothing is gained from long excursions away from the strings, except perhaps for visual purposes. I use the “limp wrist, light pick grip” method, the elbow doesn’t move and the forearm mostly rotates and moves up and down as necessary. Works well for songs like Golden Earrings where I go from sweet tremolo to a strum to a syncopated strum back to tremolo for the ending. Cadence remains the same throughout. Mood Indigo is fun also, tremolo, single string, tremolo, etc.
I don’t think it really matters as long as you can do what needs to be done without any thought. Practice until you can do it while you are deciding where to go out to dinner tonight.

sethb - Posted - 02/25/2020:  12:12:14

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by a "loose" wrist, except that I agree your wrist (and your arm) should be relaxed. There's also no need to hold the pick in a death grip.  I also agree with the previous comments about keeping the pick close to the strings, thus playing as efficiently as possible.  It's the same reason that clarinet players keep their fingers as close to the keywork as possible, to eliminate any wasted movement.

Strumming a banjo is somewhat different from strumming a guitar.  (I play both instruments.)  For banjo strums, including tremolos, I keep my wrist curled in almost a 90 degree angle from the forearm.  The wrist and forearm stay basically in the same place and do NOT move up and down.  The forearm should sit on the armrest and should not move.  Instead, the hand turns up and down and the forearm rotates in place, ditto with the wrist.  With a guitar strum, the entire forearm moves up and down a bit, and the wrist is only curled at about a 30-45 degree angle.   

Hope this helps.  Being in the right position is about three-quarters of the battle.  SETH 


Hot Club Man - Posted - 03/07/2020:  15:41:38

Joscho Stephan--guitarist. Watch his right hand. Single notes / chords all come from the wrist.
Search 'Youtube'--'After You've Gone' (The video of him playing at a guitar festival).

All the top gypsy guitarists have terrific right hand technique. Go into 'Youtube'--search on 'Gypsy Jazz'.

They will 'Blow you away!'

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/16/2020:  13:28:49

There's GOOD NEWS and BAD NEWS...!!!!

Since I can't go out and do anything because of the @#$% COVID-19, so....



I'm working on my RH technique, carefully copying my new banjo hero, Brad Roth...

But now, the bad news...

... my wife is not a "banjo camp" fan....

... in fact she has warned of my premature death... even if I don't get the COVID-19 virus...


sethb - Posted - 03/16/2020:  14:08:05

Sounds like it might be a good time to slap a mute on your banjo's bridge, or stuff a towel or two under the head of the banjo.  Good luck!  Seth

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/23/2020:  05:50:27

Thanks, Seth! Have been taking your advice!

And also, here’s a pro tip from a devout cheapskate...

...if you are using a thin plectrum like I do (grey Dunlop .60 mm)...

.... every now and then throw the old, worn ones away and use a new one...

...and you will be amazed at the improvement in tone and ease of playing...

... yes, this will cost an extra $.69....

... but suck it up, cheapskate! Banjo playing is a money-losing proposition!

sethb - Posted - 03/23/2020:  10:31:44

Will, your side comment about picks raises an interesting question that might affect the original tremolo issue that you brought up. 

My personal preference in picks is a .50mm Dunlop.  It's stiff enough to handle most strumming, yet has enough flexibility that I don't need to have a death grip on it to hold it in place.  However, I sometimes find that once I get warmed up, especially in a second set and for the more uptempo numbers, I will need to switch to a slightly harder pick, say a .60mm or even the .73mm one.  That's because as I play harder and faster,  the softer pick doesn't snap back into its original position fast enough, but the harder pick will. 

So my point is that maybe you might try a .73mm pick while you're working on your tremolo.  Although a softer pick might be easier to work in theory, the slightly harder one might actually give you more control and more precise handling.  And conversely, you might try a .50mm one while you're still learning, just to get the feel of it in an easy way.  

So give it a try --- as you said, what's another 69 cents to great artistes like us?   smiley  SETH       

Edited by - sethb on 03/23/2020 10:39:23

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/23/2020:  12:12:45

Good idea, Seth, will have to give it a try as soon as I can get out and buy new picks...

Most stores are closed here in Southern Ontario and my wife and I have been in self-isolation for about ten days now...

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/23/2020:  16:55:03

Ok, here’s a question for some of our veteran tremolo-ers re: muscle fatigue...

in order to rest my wrist muscles for even a nano-second i have to leave a little “gap” in my tremolo... in the context of most tunes this can be disguised as playing a “new” note...

However, lets assume that i wanted to play the whole tune completely legato using one long perfect “gapless” tremolo... should I be able to that?

Could YOU do that?

or do you, too, need to sneak in a little “rest” here and there...?



sethb - Posted - 03/24/2020:  08:04:32

I'm sure that other folks will have different answers to this question.  But for me, it isn't so much resting the muscles as it is keeping the rhythm accurate.  So when I do tremolo, I tend to play in stretches, breaking as you said for the next note or bunch of notes.  I'm also guessing that from an artistic standpoint, playing the same type of strum for an entire song isn't a good idea, and you probably should mix it up a bit.  

I will also say that I use a lot of what Buddy Wachter called "riverboat-style" strumming.  This is a full downstroke across all four strings for the first beat, and then an up-down-up stroke on just the bottom (4th) string, which is often the melody note in a chord.  So that's essentially a full downstroke on beat one and a tremolo on the 2nd-4th beats.  This has the advantage of still giving the sound of the full chord and maintaining the rhythm, but is a little more delicate and easy on the ears than four full up-and-down strokes in each measure.  And because each tremolo is broken up by a full downstroke, it's easy to keep the rhythm accurately.  

I suppose there are some stringed instruments, like a mandolin, which use tremolo almost exclusively.  And if you're playing single-string melody on a tenor banjo, there will also be plenty of tremolo.  But most Harry Reser recordings I've heard do include a fair amount of full chord strumming, too.  I'll be interested to see what other folks have to say about this. SETH

Edited by - sethb on 03/24/2020 08:07:06

trussrod - Posted - 03/24/2020:  10:47:55

Sethb is giving professional quality advice in this thread and I agree with everything he has posted on this topic. Buddy Wachter is indeed an outstanding player and teacher. Out here on the west coast my banjo hero is Dave Marty.

sethb - Posted - 03/24/2020:  13:39:07

Thanks very much for the kind words.  But like most of us, I'm just "standing on the shoulders of giants."   

I also admire Dave Marty's playing --- very rhythmic and musical.  His plectrum banjo just sings.  Take a look at some beautiful tremolo in this YouTube clip:   SETH


Edited by - sethb on 03/24/2020 13:42:40

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/24/2020:  14:16:13

Thanks, all.

For me it’s not about sustaining and endless tremolo for artistic reasons, i just wonder if it is physically possible for others.

It’s not physically possible for me.

But I am left handed even though I play the usual way, and I’ve always had this secret fear that my right hand just isn’t capable of really great tremolo.

And speaking of “riverboat style”, my tenor banjo buddy the amazing Tim Allan, can do that using any one of the four strings as his “melody” string.

He just switches effortlessly between strings!

Maybe I will learn to do that before I die, who knows?

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 03/24/2020 14:17:17

sethb - Posted - 03/24/2020:  17:47:20

Playing tremolo on inside strings is an amazing skill and one that must take a tremendous amount of practice and control.  I consider myself very fortunate to be able to tremolo just on the 4th (outside) string. 

Since you're a lefty, you might want to look into a left-handed banjo; they do make such things.  They probably require a reversed nut (to accommodate the reversed order of string gauges) and a different armrest placement.  But I can't think of any other necessary changes. 

Heck, it might even be possible to retrofit your existing banjo with the required new nut and armrest.  Then you could play as Mother Nature apparently intended!  SETH

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/24/2020:  19:04:15

Weirdly enough, there are quite a few things i simply can’t do left-handed, like cutting with scissors, batting a baseball, and playing banjo or guitar.

It seems that I’m neither a real righty or a real lefty...

It looks like I’m just going to have to persevere with my tremolo... gotta say, these Vox banjos are really great for tremolo, aren’t they?

sethb - Posted - 03/25/2020:  10:45:50

If you're ambidextrous, then you don't have the "lefty" excuse, so just get strummin' !!  smiley 

It might sound silly, but I always felt that tremolo feels as though the pick was "gently caressing" the string -- gently, but quickly. It probably goes back to the idea that someone else posted about keeping the pick as close to the strings as possible, to avoid any wasted motion.  But to me it does feel as though the pick never leaves the string, even though of course that doesn't make any sense from a purely physical point of view. 

One more thought.  When you're working on your tremolo, I suggest that you start with a very slow tremolo, much slower than you would actually play it.  Strive for accuracy and evenness and equality of beats.  Let your muscle memory absorb what's happening, so you can reproduce it later.  Only when you're satisfied with those results, then you can gradually speed up, until you reach performance tempo.  Get accuracy first, speed can come later.  Good Luck!  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 03/25/2020 10:46:47

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/25/2020:  12:37:28

Ok, Seth, I’m on it!

And, full disclosure: I plan to blame you when my wife appears at my music room door with a carving knife!

sethb - Posted - 03/25/2020:  13:40:41

Sorry, but my advice is limited to banjo playing!  smiley   SETH

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 03/30/2020:  13:21:03

I am happy to report that with a good deal of practice, my tremolo is finally coming along just the way I have always hoped.

Old dog! New trick!

Woo hoo!

I finally figured out how to strum very fast, but also very lightly! not hard!


sethb - Posted - 03/30/2020:  14:40:19

Congrats on getting that tremolo down!  It's a knack more than anything else, and once you have everything (hand, wrist, pick, banjo) in the right position, stuff usually just falls into place with some dedicated practice.  I like your description of the strum being done best with a "light, not a hard" touch, which is quite accurate.  Once you tense up, which is natural, it's all over!

Also congrats on that lovely Art Deco Vox plectrum that you mentioned in another thread.  Now you can make some beautiful music to match that beautiful banjo.  SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 03/30/2020 14:41:37

Hot Club Man - Posted - 04/02/2020:  13:13:33

I agree with guitarbanjoman--practice strumming lightly for a fast smooth tremolo.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 04/07/2020:  09:36:48

I sometimes find that once I get warmed up, especially in a second set and for the more uptempo numbers, I will need to switch to a slightly harder pick, say a .60mm or even the .73mm one. 

Seth, while cleaning up my music room yesterday, what should I find but a .73 pick... !

So I tried it and your suggestion was absolutely on the money!

It feels too stiff at first, but Just as you said, after I get warmed up, it feels great!


sethb - Posted - 04/07/2020:  10:07:30

Will, I think that pick was just waiting for you, hoping you'd find it and give it a try!  

I've learned that it often pays to experiment and play around a little bit; you never know what you might discover that can be helpful and useful.  Some of my favorite chord progressions came about when I accidentally slid to the "wrong" fret or fingered the "wrong" chord. 

As another sideman once told me, "What do you call it when you play a wrong note?  Jazz!" SETH  

Edited by - sethb on 04/07/2020 10:09:03

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 04/21/2020:  09:54:18

Hey, Seth, another question...btw, thanks for being my tremolo guru...

When I first pick up my banjo in the morning, my tremolo is kinda punk and it takes about a 15-20 minute workout to get it all back where it was the day before...


Or something to worry about?



sethb - Posted - 04/21/2020:  11:35:15

Will --- Not sure that I qualify as a guru, but thanks for the kind words!

I'm guessing that your concern is nothing to worry about, and that your brain and arm muscles are still getting used to what you're asking them to do.  I think in a few more days or weeks, the tremolo will become second nature to you, and you won't have this problem.  Plus, you may also want to start off with a thinner pick and then switch out for a stiffer one, as we've discussed before. 

As an afterthought, you might want to look into a pick holder.  I found one for about $4 that slides onto my mini-boom mic arm.  It holds 5 or 6 picks securely, and where I can get a pick quickly and easily if I drop ot break one.  Here's the link for that holder, which is made by Dunlop and sold at Guitar Center:    

I think it's also natural to take a few minutes to warm up, no matter what you're playing.  I usually have to take it easy for the first couple of tunes in order to get my fretting hand fingers to stretch for some of those three or four-fret chords. 

So just keep plunking along, and things will probably be fine!  SETH 

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